On February 22, 2021, Governor Murphy signed into law The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act, regulating cannabis use and possession for adults 21 years and older. The ratification of the bill follows a protracted legislative logjam since Election Day, when New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a mandate to provide the infrastructure for the legalization of cannabis in the state. The legalization immediately decriminalizes certain amounts of marijuana and hashish statewide. Meanwhile, the recreational production and sale remains subject to regulatory schemes not yet enacted.
Today, the House of Representatives passed the groundbreaking MORE Act – legalizing marijuana at the federal level. The bill passed by a vote of 228 to 164.
As we previously discussed in our November 10th and September 4th blog posts, the MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 – H.R. 3884) legalizes marijuana and cannabis at the federal level, by removing them from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminates some cannabis criminal records.
While the bill represents a first step toward legalizing cannabis, states would need to adopt similar measures to fully decriminalize its use – currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia have legalized (or recently voted to legalize) cannabis for adult recreational use, and 35 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis.
The bill also makes other changes, including:
- Replaces statutory references to marijuana and marihuana with cannabis,
- Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees,
- Establishes a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs,
- Imposes a 5% tax on cannabis products and requires revenues to be deposited into the trust fund,
- Makes Small Business Administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers,
- Prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions,
- Prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction), and
- Establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses.
While Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), the Vice President-Elect, introduced a counterpart bill (S.2227) in the U.S. Senate, its passage in the chamber is unlikely this Congress as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has declined to endorse the bill.
While this legislation is unlikely to pass the Senate this Congress, proponents of cannabis legalization have hailed the House vote as historic, and an important first step toward generating the momentum and support needed to favorably position the measure for future congressional consideration. And whether the measure would be approved by the next Congress likely depends on the outcome of the two Georgia Senate runoff elections scheduled for January 5, 2021. If both Democratic Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, win the runoffs, then the Democrats will control both the House and Senate, with Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.
However, it is unclear if President-Elect Joe Biden would sign the bill since he has proposed rescheduling cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts as opposed to removing it entirely from the list of scheduled substances. While Biden has expressed support for decriminalization of marijuana, expungement of prior cannabis use convictions, and legalizing cannabis use for medical purposes – he has said he wants to leave decisions regarding adult recreational use to the individual states. Nonetheless, marijuana legalization advocates believe this symbolic vote on the legislation could send a strong signal to the Biden administration that this is a Democratic priority.
Even though federal legalization may not be on the immediate horizon, the passage of the MORE Act in the House, and the legalization of adult-use and/or medical marijuana in five more states on November 3, 2020, could influence a Biden-appointed attorney general’s views on enforcement of marijuana related activities. While AG Sessions attempted to reverse the liberal Obama administration marijuana policies set forth in the Cole Memorandum, and AG Barr has reluctantly acknowledged that the Cole priorities have been relied on and should thus be followed, an AG appointed by Biden, given the current pro-legalization wave, Biden’s favoring of state’s rights on this issue, and Kamala Harris’s favoring of decriminalization, might endorse an approach consistent with, if not even more liberal than, the Cole priorities. Thus, while the appointment of AG Sessions sent shockwaves through the cannabis industry, market participants and those who have been standing on the sidelines eager to get on the field seem to have a lot to look forward to.
On October 31, 2018, the Supreme Court of Justice of Mexico (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación) ruled in favor of two constitutional challenges (amparos) against the prohibition of the recreational consumption of marijuana. This now marks the fifth ruling on this subject and establishes jurisprudence. As a result, this precedent will now have to be followed by Mexican courts.
Although the consumption of marijuana remains illegal, the rulings under amparos 547/2018 and 548/2018 have effectively made laws prohibiting recreational use of marijuana unenforceable by Mexican courts.
The decision is based on the protection of the constitutional right to personal development. This right, held the court, permits adults to freely decide what recreational activities they wish to undertake and extends to protect any action that is necessary for the exercise of said freedom, without interference by the state. While the court recognized that there are necessary limits to this freedom, it nonetheless held that the effect of consumption of marijuana did not rise to the level of a justifiable interference with a constitutional right. Furthermore, this right does not extend to the commercialization of the drug, nor to the right to consume any other type of drug. …
An article in The Philadelphia Inquirer reported about the reluctance of major banks to participate in the marijuana industries in those states that have legalized marijuana for recreational and/or medicinal purposes because marijuana is still a Schedule 1 controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substance Act. I have previously written that lawyers in those states share similar concerns because the rules of ethics prohibit lawyers from assisting clients in illegal activities.
The conflict between state legalization and federal criminalization of marijuana thus appears to be depriving the businesses and individuals, such as investors, growers, manufacturers, dispensaries, physicians, patients, and consumers, currently or potentially participating in the emerging marijuana industry from the two resources – lawyers and bankers – that are arguably the most important to the establishment and sustained growth of an emerging, regulated industry. This is especially concerning given the importance to all citizens of the careful implementation of marijuana legislation. Continue reading “Bankers, Lawyers, and the Conflict Between State and Federal Marijuana Laws”